Coffee at Bustan

2:09P.M. I was searching for new ways to pass the hours of my day that first Tuesday afternoon of October, before suddenly being interrupted by the double-buzzing of my phone, as its screen flickered. It’s a text message from a friend. Let’s call her Misky, I don’t get those that often.

Assalaamu ‘Aleykum, I hope you still remember. Is Bustan fine with you?

Waaleykum Salaam, how would I even forget?

 I replied.

I actually had forgotten. I was to meet her for coffee today. A date that’s almost a year due, due to our inability to have our schedules confer and have us be in one town at the very same time. So, when yesterday I saw her WhatsApp status about a coffee date by herself and hit her up with ‘when’s ours?’, I was glad she shot straight with, ‘how about tomorrow?’.

Where’s Bustan BTW?

It’s opposite Makadara ground.

Okay, what time?

NOOOW. (She accompanies that with an uncomfortable amount of laughing emojis.)

As common courtesy is, I text her back with an equally ridiculous amount of almost similar emojis.

Give me about 15 minutes. Is that too much?

That’s a lot, but you’ll find me there.

I’d like to think, in a way hope, that she only reached there like 5 minutes before sending the next text at 3:08P.M.

H.K, I’m now sleepy wallahi!

Shit! I haven’t even left my house. And it’s not like I was even doing anything. I live like less than 10 minutes away though, at least that’s good. I text her back with something African, for the culture.

I’m almost there. And if by any chance it gets to 3:15 and I’m not there yet, you can just leave.

Hurry. It’s the restaurant next to Gelato Divino. You’ll find me in the first floor.

Was her reply.

I find my way to Bustan to meet her at 3:20P.M. It was this beautiful modern café which had a quirky kind of vibe to it, as coffee shops did. Now that I look back, I should’ve savoured the artistry that went to it more. The great choice of lighting, the whole brown artistic vibe going for it with the wooden tables and chairs, the bright whites one metre from the floor and just the ambience and everything but at that moment, it was just another coffee shop.

I made my way into the restaurant like it wasn’t my first time there, found my way to the first floor where I found Mulky in the first table at the furthest right corner of my immediate right, kind of hiding. Kind of make sense, she’s rather introverted. Like a breath of fresh air, I bustled in.

“SERIOUSLY MISKY, OF ALL TIMES? Who calls someone for coffee at 3 in the afternoon? IN MOMBASA? When you said we’d meet for coffee today, I honestly thought it’d be some time after 5P.M”

She smiles molar to molar, head tilted to one side. I could’ve sworn she’d fall due to the heavy amount of tired she wore on her face, as she showed off those sparkly white sets, the frequent topic of her Instagram stories, ‘Do you guys think I should start advertising for Colgate?’

I quickly sit down as she’s distracted with the laughing before being rebuked for my lateness. On leaning my hand on the coffee table, it tilts to one side pouring her drink. The table it seems, was a bit uneven.

“Oops, sorry”

“It’s okay”

“Why’d you choose this table though, it’s rather shaky,” I immediately forget and place my arms on the table again, spilling more of her coffee.

“O’kay, I see we’ll have to move; my drink isn’t safe here.”

“But I like it though, this table.” I say, looking at her as I chuckle, “I like how it’s kind of more hidden than the other tables”

“I know, right?” her face lights up, “That’s why I chose it.”

This really attractive female waitress walks over to us only for Mulky to send her away like, “You could let him rest for a moment first before he orders.”

I would’ve ordered if I’m honest but okay.

Assalaamu ‘Aleykum by the way, how have you been?”

“Waaleykum Salaam. I’ve been good alhamdulillah, you?” She asks, as she takes tiny sips of her hot beverage.

“I’ve been good wallahi. It’s been a while”

“Yeah, when did you come back?”

“Umm…What day was the last MTY event again? Yeah, Saturday.”

“Uuhh…MTY. I don’t even remember the last time I attended their events.”

“Me too, it’s been about a year.”

“I know, but at least with you it’s understandable. You weren’t in Mombasa. As for me, I’m around but just like that.”

“That’s life bana. So, these days it’s just you and Raise Officials?”

“Not really even, I’m not even dealing with any C.B.O.s of late, there’re like too many to handle.”

“I know, I just got here but subhaanallah, there’s very many names.”

“Yeah, and the worst thing is that everyone wants to start theirs. I remember telling some of them that instead of starting a C.B.O, they should just join one and work with them. The goal is our community after all. But they just wouldn’t listen. They’re all doing the same things, targeting the same places, same orphanages, like I even heard that some of these orphanages now have to sell some of the assistance they get cause it’s just too much!”

“Isn’t that a good thing though?” I shoot

“It is but, I don’t know.” She sighs, “Some of these people are doing it for the fame and to use people for their own benefit. That’s something I realised when I organized my Walk for Dignity on raising awareness for menstrual hygiene. And please don’t do that thing you do where you make people spill everything out with like case examples with people’s names and leaving me thinking like, why did I do that?”

“Seriously?” I chuckle, “We’re not here to talk about people.” There’s a brief moment of silence. “Okay, but intentions aside, I actually think this rise of the C.B.O.s is actually a positive light on Mombasa. Like with M.T.Y, Salma always used to sing about changing the narrative of Mombasa and now we’re getting somewhere wallahi. We’re no longer the unemployed youth who just sit around, we’re now unemployed youths with C.B.O.s. Could there be a better way to do things? Yes, probably. But this is good.”

“Yeah, there are some really amazing people by the way.”

“Must be… and SO many new faces. Just imagine I went to the event this Saturday and I knew only a handful of people.”

“Well, you have been away for an entire year, you know.” She gave that what did you expect look, her head hanging by the edge of her neck. “But I see what you’re saying, just imagine in the last MTY events that I went to, after we were done, I just said Hi to Salma, Omar, AbdulRahim and just a few other people and I walk away. The faces have changed”

“This must have been a very busy year for you.”

“Yeah, I work at Coast General right now. After I was done with my what you’d call an internship, they absorbed me. Theyt only took like five of us out of the many… but with very little pay. That’s mainly because we’re employed by the hospital and not the government. At least I get the experience though.”

“Yeah.”

There and then her phone rang and I took out my phone to cope with that situation. I looked around the restaurant. The wooden floor. The glass panes at the end. The artistic paintings on the wall. It just had this entire brown coffee vibe going for it. With the lighting being just the right amount. Yeah, I said that already but I just couldn’t get enough of it.”

Our waitress comes up again to serve these new customers and after she’s done, I signal for her that I was ready to order. I honestly wish I had had my no-nonsense coffee guide where I’d just know like, the frothy one for a cappuccino, or the milky one for a latte or just milk topped with coffee for a macchiato. But all I could say when she came was “Same thing please.”

Misky puts the phone down after a lengthy conversation and told me about a circumcision gone wrong that had happened over the weekend in a circumcision workshop. When a first timer cut diagonally more than the foreskin and now this 8-year-old had to be rushed to the hospital for stitching. That phone call was mostly that.

Then she looked up at me who’s turn it was to drink my coffee as she made conversation.

“So, what are you doing these days?”

“I just got here. But I guess I’m going to look for an internship somewhere after I’m rested for this one week, and then start tarmacking”

“That’s nice.”

There and then, this really handsome young man walks into the room and Misky tries to hide but it was too late. He walks over to us and says hi before walking to his table with the company he was with.

“I don’t know what that guy thinks of me right now?” Misky says after the guy had walked away.  “He’s always seeing me here with different guys?”

“You must come here so often then?” I chuckle.

“No, but he’s one of the managers here. Whenever I come, he’s here”

“Oh, I see.”

“Anyways, it doesn’t matter. Let me pay the bill and leave. My sister will call me in a few and ask me where I am. And wait till she hears that I’m still in town and the questions will start. Like with whom. Just imagine the conversations at home these days are always about when are you going to bring home the guy you were having coffee with.”

“Oh, you tell them”

“No, but they see my status, and you know what that leads to. And just imagine most of the times I’m alone.”

“Really? Should we ask the manager?”

She goes back at it with the ear to ear smile.

We ni mchokozi. I wonder why everyone sees you as this really shy person lakini kumbe…”

“Reaally now?”

Wallahi tena, if only they knew”

The waitress walks over with the bill. Misky keys in the M-Pesa paybill and asks me to leave a tip.

She goes on and tells me on how important it was to leave a tip however small and how her father raised them on that. On how even when they went on trips when young they used to be given tip money for the tour guide. On how her sister was scolded one day for not having tipped the tour guide since he had a lot of people surrounding him. He understood this having have worked in the service industry and understood how much these tips meant.

And for the first time, I left a tip at a restaurant.

Stepping outside of Bustan, into the Mombasa heat, we said our goodbyes.

“It was nice seeing you.”

 

 

 

Africa, Coffee, Conversation, Culture, development, experiences, Friends, home, Mombasa, progress


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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Hassan Kassim is a Kenyan-based Creative non-fiction writer, blogger and translator of Kiswahili works with over 2 years of experience. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa, and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management.

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